ETHAN HENDRIX STOOD BY THE barricades between the crowd and the cyclists. The sun was hot, the spectators loud. The noise of a race was specific and not something he would ever forget. There’d been a time when he’d planned on seeing the world on the racing circuit. A long time ago, he thought, remembering the feel of the wind, the sensation of muscles burning as he dug for the will to win.

Winning had come easily. Maybe too easily. He’d gotten careless during a race. At fifty miles an hour, balanced on skinny wheels and a lightweight frame, mistakes could be deadly. In his case, he’d been left with a few broken bones and a permanent limp. For anyone else, it would have been considered lucky. For him, the injury had kept him from ever racing again.

Now, ten years later, he watched the cyclists speed past. He spotted his friend Josh, still making up time from his late start, and wondered What if. But he didn’t have a whole lot of energy for the subject. Everything was different now and he was good with that.

He turned away from the race, ready to return to his office, when he spotted a woman in the crowd. For a second he thought he’d imagined her, that he was putting beautiful features he would never forget onto the face of someone else. There was no way Liz Sutton was back in Fool’s Gold.

Instinctively he moved closer, but the road with the barricades was between them. The redhead looked up again, this time facing him. She removed her sunglasses and he saw her wide green eyes, the full mouth. From this distance he couldn’t see the freckles on her nose, but he knew they were there. He even knew how many.

He swore softly. Liz was back. Except on the back cover of her books, he hadn’t seen her in over a decade. As of five seconds ago, he would have told anyone who asked that he’d forgotten her, had gotten over her. She was his past.

She looked away then, as if searching for someone. Obviously not him, he thought, then grinned. Liz back in Fool’s Gold. Who would have thought?

He eased his way through the crowd. He might not be able to find her now, but he had a feeling he knew where she would be later. He would meet her there and welcome her home. It was the least he could do.

LIZ KEPT A TIGHT HOLD ON Tyler’s hand on their way to the local grocery store. The crowd around the bike race was big and seemed to be growing. She’d been foolish to think she could find two girls she’d never met in the throng of tourists. It wasn’t as if she even knew what they looked like.

She pointed toward a vendor selling shaved iced and bought Tyler his favorite flavor. Blueberry.

All around them, groups of people laughed and talked about the race. She heard something about a new bike racing school and a new hospital being built. Changes, she thought. Fool’s Gold had changed in the past ten years.

But not enough for her to forget. Despite having to detour around blocked roads, she easily found her way down side streets, and back toward the house where she’d grown up.

“You lived here before you went to San Francisco?” Tyler asked.

“Uh-huh. I grew up here.”

“With my grandma Sutton?”


“She’s dead now.”

He spoke the words as information, because that’s all they were to him. He’d never met Liz’s mother.

When Liz had first left town at eighteen, running away with a broken heart, she’d found her way to the city by the bay, had struggled to find work and a place to stay in a glorified shelter. Then she’d found out she was pregnant.

Her first instinct had been to go home, but that initial phone call had made her wary. Over the next year, she’d phoned home twice. Both times her mother had made it clear her daughter was no longer a part of her life. The rejection had hurt but hadn’t been much of a surprise. Her mother had also taken great delight in telling her that no, Ethan Hendrix never called or asked about her.

When the woman died four years ago, Liz hadn’t cried, though she felt regret over the relationship they never had.

Now, as she crossed a quiet street, she found herself in her old neighborhood. The houses were modest, two- and three-bedroom homes with small porches and aging paint. A few gleamed like bright flowers in an abandoned garden, as if the neighborhood was on the verge of being desirable again.

The worst house on the street sat in the middle. An eyesore of peeling paint and missing roof shingles. The yard was more weeds than plants or lawn, the windows were filthy. Plywood filled the space where one was missing.

She used the key she’d found under the front mat to let them in. She’d already done a brief tour of the house, to see if the girls were there. Judging from the school books piled on the dirty kitchen table and the clothes on the girls’ bedroom floors, she would guess summer break hadn’t started yet.

Now she walked through to the kitchen with tonight’s meal. Half the cabinets were gone, as if someone had started remodeling then changed his mind. The refrigerator worked, but was empty. There was no food in the pantry in the corner. There were a few potato chip wrappers in the trash and one small apple on the counter.

She didn’t know what to think. Based on her niece’s letter, the girls had been on their own for a few weeks. Ever since their stepmom had taken off. With their father in jail and no other family around, shouldn’t the state step in? Where were social services?

She had more questions, but figured she would deal with them later. It was after four. The girls should get home soon. Once they’d all met, she would get more food in the house and figure out what was going on.

“Mom?” Tyler called from the living room. “May I watch TV?”

“Until your cousins get here.”

Peggy had already called to confirm she’d paid all the amounts due on the utility bills and that everything should be working. Liz could see there was electricity. She turned on the faucet and water gushed out, which was a plus. Seconds later, she heard the sound of cartoons, which meant there was cable. Modern life as she knew it had been restored.

She walked back to the front of the house and took the stairs to the second floor. She made her way straight to the master. It was the only room with family photos. A wedding picture of a much older Roy standing next to a chubby blonde had been placed on the battered dresser. There were a couple of school pictures of the girls. Liz moved closer and studied them, looking for features that would be familiar.

Melissa seemed to have Roy’s smile. Abby had Liz’s eyes and freckles. They were both redheads, Melissa blessed with a soft auburn color. Abby was all carrot-top, which looked totally adorable. Although Liz had a feeling the eleven-year-old wouldn’t appreciate her unique coloring for a long time.

She turned away from the photos to look at the room. The bed was unmade, the dresser drawers open and empty. In the surprisingly large closet, only men’s clothes hung. A couple of boxes were filled with socks and underwear-most likely placed there by Roy’s wife.

Memories crowded around, filling the space. They poked at her as she moved back into the hallway, then into the bedroom that had been hers, making her remember things she’d tried so hard to forget.

She heard echoes of her mother yelling, inhaled the smell of alcohol. She remembered the low voices of the men who had come and gone. Most of her mother’s “friends” had stayed out of Liz’s way, but a few had watched her with an intensity that had made her uncomfortable.

She went into the room that had been hers. The wall color was different. The faded yellow had been replaced with a pale lavender. While the walls were freshly painted, the baseboards and trim had been sanded, but not finished. In the bathroom across the hall, the floor had been pulled up, exposing sheets of plywood below. She’d noticed a framed room off the back, sitting on a poured foundation. So many half-started projects that gave the already old and battered house the air of being wounded.

Easily changed, she told herself. A good contractor could have this place fixed in a few weeks. Or maybe the old house should simply be torn down and left for dead.

She shook off the morose thoughts. She’d been here all of an hour and already the place was getting to her. She had to remember she had a great life in San Francisco. Work she loved, a beautiful home, an amazing son. She’d left Fool’s Gold over a decade ago. She was a different person today. Older. Stronger. Able to deal with a few memories. It wasn’t as if she was settling here permanently. She would find out what was going on, then either take the girls to wherever they were going to live, or pack them up and bring them back to her place. A couple

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